June 16, 2024

Blazing times and sun at state track

Nearly 50 qualifying events, 22 medals, five golds and three state records

Gabe Funk and Ryce Reynolds - second and first in 1A 400m hurdles

DES MOINES — After a regular season filled with rain delays, strong headwinds and bundling up to keep warm, the weather at the 2024 State Coed Track and Field Championships was a complete 180.

With relentless sun and highs of 79 on Thursday, 83 on Friday and 89 on Saturday, athletes had a new set of challenges to face.

“The weather is something you can’t prepare in advance for,” Creston Coach Maggie Arnold said. “Friday, that was really our only long day where we were staying at the track all day long. We try to keep them warming up in the grassy area where there is some shade instead of on the hot track.”

The Panthers qualified in six events — boys and girls 4x800m relay; boys distance medley relay; boys 4x400m relay; Avery Staver in the girls 200m dash; Tom Mikkelsen in the shot put and Brandon Briley in the 800m run.

With Class 2A and 3A competing in the morning session, the Panthers made some adjustments heading into state.

“We started practicing in the morning,” Arnold said. “We’re certainly not used to racing in the morning.”

Though the team definitely had some disappointing finishes, the weekend was highlighted by a new school record and the first boys state medal in Creston since 2015.

Staver, a sophomore, got things started for Creston with the 200 on Thursday morning. Staver ran a personal record qualifying time of 26.47 to earn at at-large berth.

Avery Staver - 24th place 3A 200m dash, 21st place 4x800 relay

In the meet, Staver ran a 26.88, placing 24th in her first appearance at state.

While Staver came in ranked 23rd, Arnold said they talked about how close the times are in sprints. “With those sprint events, even when you qualify in a certain place, when you look at the times, there’s not a lot of space between 23rd and eighth, really,” Arnold said. “Our goal for Avery was to get her on the track and get her comfortable. She did a great job; she loves that race. She wants to get better and be back.”

The girls 4x800m relay took the track next after a season-best qualifying race in 10:01.06, earning the 16th spot at state.

Maylee Riley - 21st place 3A 4X800

Sophomore Maylee Riley got the race started for the Panthers coming to the exchange zone third and landing a 2:29 split. Riley handed the baton off to freshman Hope Henderson. Henderson held onto third through most of the first lap, but lost several spots through the final lap, running a 2:35.

Hope Henderson - 21st place 3A 4x800

Staver had the baton third. By her second lap, Clear Creek-Amana had a significant lead, a pack of six runners fighting for second. Algona split from the pack for second as Staver gained on the group throughout her leg. She came in at the back of the pack as she exchanged to junior Payton Davis for the anchor leg. Staver ran a 2:34 split.

Davis lost one position on the anchor leg, running a 2:37 to place the Panthers ninth in the first heat, 21st overall with a 10:15.98. Despite finishing lower than they had hoped, all four girls will be returning next year.

Payton Davis - 21st place 3A 4x800

“That feels great, actually,” Arnold said. “The girls team was just a blast to be around all week. They were full of enthusiasm about everything, and they are all super excited for next year to get back. When we were watching, they were all talking about next year and all the events they want to qualify in.”

The boys 4x800 also had a bit of a disappointing race, but their two seniors — Austin Evans and Briley, had strong races.

Austin Evans - 9th place 3A distance medley relay

As usual, Evans put the Panthers in a good position. He ran a fast first lap, keeping the lead spot. In the second lap, he fell a few positions, running a 2:01 split to put the Panthers in fifth.

In the second leg, junior Tyler Riley ran a 2:15. Briley got the baton in third, and was able to make up a position, putting the Panthers in 11th in the first heat. He ran a 2:00. Freshman Davin Wallace was on the anchor leg for the Panthers. He ran a 2:14 to finish in 12th in the heat and 24th overall.

Tyler Riley - 24th place 3A 4x800

“We didn’t run our best up there,” Arnold said. “I felt like Thursday, those two seniors gave us great legs and the others looked inexperienced, but that’s fine. You have to get your feet wet, get some experience somewhere. There were a little bit of nerves.”

On Friday, the Panthers were ready for some success, and they found it in a bittersweet distance medley relay.

They had two goals coming into the relay — break the school record of 3:35.06 set in 2015 and place in the top eight for a medal. Their qualifying time was 3:39.07, but Briley had run the 400 leg and Evans the 800. At state, the two were switched to their better races. The team hoped that could shave off the time needed. Both Evans and Briley were on the state-qualifying DMR a year ago that placed 24th.

It was junior Casen Dryden on the opening 200 in the second of three heats. Dryden ran on the state team in 2022, but didn’t go out for track last season. Seth Gordon ran the second leg. The sophomore was out for track as a freshman, but mostly sidelined with injuries. Both ran strong legs before Evans got the baton for the 400.

Seth Gordon and Casen Dryden - 9th place 3A distance medley relay

At the cut in mark on the back stretch, Evans landed in second place. After some shuffling on the front stretch, Evans gave the baton to Briley in fourth after running a 53 second split, Glenwood in the lead.

Briley had a host of talented anchor runners to compete with including Andrew Smith of Glenwood who had topped Briley in the 800 at the Hawkeye 10 and state qualifying meets. South Tama County had Tommy Tyynismaa on the anchor, who would go on to take second in the 800 with a 1:53.2.

Tyynismaa passed four runners in the first lap, putting South Tama County in second. Briley passed two to place Creston in third. Down the stretch, it was Tyynismaa and Smith competing for the win, South Tama coming out on top, Glenwood in second and Creston in third.

It was a 1:53.5 for Tyynismaa in his anchor split, 1:56.2 for Smith and a 1:56.1 for Briley. With the fastest heat still to go, the Panthers sat at fourth. But one goal was already accomplished as the video board read a time of 3:34.64 for Creston — a new school record.

“The DMR, that was a legit record those boys broke,” Arnold said. “Jay Wolfe, a phenomenal runner, was the anchor, and Brandon’s brother Bryce was a member of the previous record, and he was outstanding as well. They wanted to get it last year, but didn’t perform at state. It’s been their goal all season long. We made the flip with Austin and Brandon so they were super confident. They were immediately confident about that.”

Wolfe holds the Hawkeye 10 meet 800m record of 1:57.57, set in 2014. In addition to Bryce Briley and Wolfe on that 2015 relay were Chris Foster and Seth Maitlen.

As the final heat took off, the boys watched the times anxiously. With Central Dewitt running a 3:33.5 out of the first heat, the Panthers were in fourth. They needed the fifth-place finished to have a time slower than theirs to place eighth and medal.

It was too close to call when Gilbert crossed the finish line in fifth, right around the time the Panthers had run. But their time of 3:33.96 was .68 seconds faster than the Panthers, and Gilbert claimed the final medal.

“This is the second time DMR has broken school record and not placed,” Arnold said. “The competition was so great this year. It was lightning fast this year and didn’t happen. They got the school record which they’ve really wanted, but it’s disappointing we didn’t get that medal.”

For Briley, it wasn’t just gaining the school record, but also bumping his brother from the record board that made the time so satisfying. But as a competitor, he was disappointed in their finish.

“Our first 200 legs got us off to a great start. We got the baton around which was one of our bigger issues. Austin got us going on the 400, and then I finished with a 1:56,” Briley said. “Our goal was to break the school record, which we did that, but it kind of feels like crap getting ninth, being so close. It was like three-quarters of a second.”

Creston freshman Tom Mikkelsen, a Hawkeye 10 shot put champion and the gold medalist at the state qualifying meet, got his chance to compete Friday afternoon.

Tom Mikkelsen - 11th place 3A shot put

He threw his personal best by nearly 2 ft in the qualifying meet, a 54-04.5. The throw seeded him fourth.

The top eight throws through three attempts move on to the finals. Mikkelsen was in the second flight, throwing a 51-06 on his first attempt, but was unable to top it from there. The mark gave him an 11th-place finish.

“I thought Tom did a nice job. He’s a creature of habit, and his schedule was thrown off a little,” Arnold said. “At the throws, Tom’s used to having a lot of guys, his teammates right there. The meets are a more laid back atmosphere; he’s not having to be contained to a specific area. As a freshman coming to a state meet, he has to get that experience somehow. Now he’s prepared for years to come.”

In Evans’ last chance for a medal, the Panthers ran the qualifying race for the 4x400m relay later that day, but it was a 20th-place finish for the relay of Evans, Wallace, Gordon and Briley.

Davin Wallace - 24th place 3A 4x800, 20th place 4x400.

Arnold said the big story behind this state meet is how hard Evans and Briley worked to get to where they are today. “Finally, after four years of hard work and working those specific things they were able to run the fastest times of their careers from the 100 to the two mile,” she said. “It takes time, and people don’t want to be patient and work as long as it takes. They were willing to do that for their coaches, their teammates and their school. They didn’t have loads of natural talent — they developed that. They are extraordinary athletes.”

After five events were concluded and the Panthers still hadn’t claimed a medal, Briley was ready to take on the responsibility.

“I knew that I needed to bring in at least one medal for our team,” he said. “The D-med was a heart breaker. I knew I needed to perform at my absolute best to bring in a medal. We haven’t had one of those for awhile in Creston.”

With the eighth-fastest time coming in, Briley was in the main wave of runners in the boys 800m, but starting in the furthest lane. The fastest seed time was Smith of Glenwood with a 1:58.10. Tyynismaa came in with a 1:59.81.

Brandon Briley - sixth place 3A 800m

While Briley was able to cut in right away, he was boxed in on the backstretch, not able to make a move until the front stretch on the first lap when he advanced to the front of the pack. He came through the first lap in 56 seconds, moving up to sixth place. On the backstretch, he pulled up next to Smith, passing him for a spot in fourth. On the final stretch, he was issued a challenge, as runners came up next to him, all vying for a coveted spot in the top-eight.

While Michael Yeomans of Solon and Isaac Sorensen of Clear Creek-Amana were able to get past him, Briley finished sixth, only .27 seconds ahead of the ninth-place finisher. His time of 1:56.5 was a PR in the open 800.

Quentin Nauman of Western Dubuque won the race in 1:51, a new Class 3A state meet record.

Briley said his 1:56.1 split in the DMR a day before was a big boost of confidence. “I wouldn’t have placed running a 1:58 like I did before; It was really fast out there,” he said. “I just ran the race like I needed to, finished strong and got sixth.”

Arnold said Briley’s race was the perfect way to wrap up the state meet. “He just literally never quits. That kid could have got down in the dumps. His freshman year he was the 25th spot, one away from qualifying for state,” she said. “He could have given up, but he never did. He’s just one of those kids where if you tell him he can’t do it, he’s definitely going to do it. He’s so small, but he has an engine that just doesn’t stop. He wanted that medal so bad. He was able to get Smith back from Glenwood. That kid’s been kicking his butt since junior high. That finish was so strong and I couldn’t be more proud.”

Briley’s race scored three points for the Panthers, placing the boys 33rd in team standings.

Area medalists

Out of nearly 50 events that qualified, 22 came home with medals around their necks, 13 landed on the podium and five events were champions.

It’s no surprise the five winning events all had either Gabe Funk of Lenox or Ryce Reynolds of Mount Ayr in the lineup. The Pride of Iowa junior and senior represented Southwest Iowa with two and three gold medals, respectively.

The hurdles are a staple in Lenox. Funk was on the shuttle hurdle relay winning in 2022 and the one placing fifth a year ago. They graduated three seniors from last year’s team, and didn’t know who would be on the team until this season had already started.

JJ Martin-England was an alternate a year ago who stepped in after Trenton Beck was injured due to a misplaced hurdle. The alternate ran on their re-run in the preliminaries and on their finals race. He was back this year as the second leg.

JJ Martin-England - first in 1A shuttle hurdle relay, second in sprint medley relay

Donald Bashor, a senior sprinter and Dawson Evans, a first-year track athlete, had never jumped a hurdle before this season. “They were begging me to try them and I finally just gave it a shot,” Bashor said.

Evans was recruited to the team after excelling in his freshman baseball season. The four put together a team and hoped it would be enough to place.

“JJ stepped up and we just picked out our next two best athletes,” Funk said. “They figured it out very quickly.”

As the season went on, their times continued to decrease. That led to the state meet where the newly joined group of four would break the school record and state meet record in the preliminaries, running a 59.79.

“State records are pretty cool, but it means nothing without a gold medal around your neck,” Funk said. “It was a confidence booster more than an accomplishment.”

“We knew we could get that time down again,” Martin-England said. And he was right because in the finals, they broke the record yet again, placing first in :57.72, Funk holding his arms up in triumph as he crossed the finish line first, running into Martin-England to celebrate.

“That is a very very surreal feeling when you cross the finish line and know you’ve won a state championship,” Funk said. “Not many people can say they’ve done that.”

Gabe Funk - first in 110 hurdles, shuttle hurdle relay. Second in 400m hurdles, sprint medley relay.

But Funk would do it again only hours later. In the 110m high hurdles, he ran his season-best time in the finals — a 14.83 to take the state title.

The race everyone couldn’t wait for was the 400m hurdles where Funk and Reynolds would show down as the first and second seeds. Reynolds won the title in 2022 and 2023, Funk placing third a year ago.

“It’s really cool,” Funk said. “We’re the face of Southwest Iowa in those events. All eyes are on us. It’s unique.”

Though Funk was able to get a win in the race at home earlier this season, Reynolds started like a rocket, taking the lead and never looking back.

“I wouldn’t have wanted the rivalry throughout the whole year and at state track to be with anybody else but Gabe,” Reynolds said. “It makes it so much easier that he’s an amazing person on and off the track. I never have to worry about hard feelings between us after the race.”

Reynolds won his third consecutive title with a 51.68, breaking his own state record from last year. Funk came in second with a 53.65.

Though it would seem Funk should be happy his number one rival is graduating this year, he said it’s bittersweet. “I think the hype around some of these local races with him and I won’t be there anymore,” Funk said. “It’s just great that he’s such a nice guy. I’m not losing to some jerk.”

Tate Dugan - first place 1A sprint medley

It was deja vu in the sprint medley relay. Tate Dugan and Jackson Ruggles ran the 100m legs for the Raiders while it was Martin-England and Evans on the first two for Lenox. On the 200m legs were Preston Fleharty for the Raiders and Bashor for the Tigers.

Preston Fleharty hands off to Ryce Reynolds in the winning sprint medley relay.

Bashor handed off to Funk in first place while Reynolds got the baton from Fleharty in third

“I got it ahead of him, but I thought gosh dang it he’s going to catch me,” Funk said. “On the back stretch, I had hope. I thought we might win this.”

“I was coming around that first curve in the sprint medley before we had to cut and my eyes were just deadlocked on him,” Reynolds recounted. “I wasn’t thinking about how fast I was going. I was just determined to gain on him inch by inch, no matter how fast I had to go out.”

“Then on the corner, he caught me and I thought oh my gosh he’s here already?” Funk said. “I tried to kick it into another gear.”

“He ran strong and held on to it,” Reynolds said. “He ran an amazing race and an amazing split from the sounds of it. I was just very thankful that I had it in me to pull it off there in the end. It was a great race for both of us. It was a pretty exciting race for sure.”

Reynolds came through the finish for the team in 1:32.66. Funk was barely behind at 1:32.9.

For Reynolds, winning on a relay is a different type of special. “Being a champion in a relay means so much more,” he said. “You’re doing it for each other rather than for yourself. It’s just really special being able to share that moment with your teammates who have been working so tremendously hard all season. They have worked their butts off this season and taken track so seriously.”

In what perfectly encapsulates these Pride of Iowa rivals, Lenox and Mount Ayr tied for fourth in the team standings, each with 38 points.

Gabe Funk and Ryce Reynolds, Pride of Iowa friendly rivals hug after placing first and second in the 400m hurdles.

“I think a lot of pride comes from Southwest Iowa, and there is a lot to be proud of, between him and I, I think,” Reynolds said. “We did a great job and we went out there and did our best in multiple events across the track. It’s very special.”

Reynolds had two more races to run without his rival — the 400m and 200m. A two-time reining state champion in the 400, he had a new strategy this year in his quest to run below sub-48. Last year, Reynolds didn’t look to even be a contender until his final sprint took out the competition. This year, he focused on his starts.

“This year I told myself, and my coaches had been giving me advice all year, that you really have to take that time away in the front half of the race,” Reynolds said. “I really just wanted to get out fast and faster than I really felt comfortable with in that race. I think that played a big part in running sub 48, which has been a goal of mine all for a really long time.”

Ryce Reynolds - 1A 400m, 400m hurdles and sprint medley champion. Second in 200.

Reynolds won the race in a 47.9, his personal PR and another state meet record, breaking his own from a year ago.

In his debut in the 200m dash, he came into finals with a new PR and a second-ranking time. He ran a 22.05 in the finals, placing second in his final race as a Mount Ayr Raider.

“I am definitely a little sentimental, but it was such a great way to end it,” Reynolds said. “I really don’t think I would be the type of person, the type of runner that I am without all of my coaches and my friends and my family and everybody else across Ringgold County and Southwest Iowa who’ve done nothing but support me. I read through the comments on Facebook and see people from all different towns and cities who just congratulated me and telling me that I’ve done a great job over the past four years. It’s amazing to see that and see the effect that I’ve kind of had over the four years. I’m so blessed and grateful to have had the opportunity. It’s just been an amazing ride for sure.”

Leksi Gannon, a 100m and 200m medalist last year, placed in three events this year for Murray.

With an interesting turn of events, Panorama was dropped from 2A to 1A this year, meaning two reining 200m dash champions would face off in 1A. Gannon and Jaidyn Sellers ran the 100 and 200m dashes together, Sellers winning both and Gannon finishing second.

Leksi Gannon - second place in 1A 100m dash, 200m dash. Fifth in 400m.

In the 100, Gannon ran a 12.5 compared to Sellers’ 12.41. In the 200, Gannon’s time was 25.32 compared to a 25.09 from Sellers.

Gannon also qualified in the 400, placing fifth in 58.71, a new PR. Sellers won that race as well in 55.44.

Three other area athletes ended on the podium with top-three finishes. East Union sophomore Morgan Cooley threw a 52-05 in shot put, not his new personal best, but enough to earn him a silver medal.

Morgan Cooley - second in 1A shot put. Seventh in discus

“52-05 was a good mark,” Cooley said. “I’ve been working on some stuff and fixing up some stuff. It felt a lot smoother today. I’m happy with my performance.”

He also finished seventh in discus, throwing 149-03. With two more years to compete, Cooley said he’ll be getting throws in, attending camps and lifting weights in the off-season to come back stronger.

Two more field events earned silver — Aubree Shields of Mount Ayr in high jump and Emma Cooper of Southwest Valley in the long jump.

Aubree Shields - second place 1A high jump

Shields placed second a year ago, jumping 5-04, tying a school record with Dawn (Huff) Elliott. This year she cleared 5-05 to take the record for herself and earn second again.

Cooper gave herself a scare, jumping 15-03 on her first attempt and 14-09.75 on her second. She came in ranked sixth with a qualifying jump of 16-08.25. On her third and final jump to qualify for finals, she hit 16-06.5, the longest mark at the time. Ella Whitney of Wayne, Corydon, narrowly beat the mark with a 16-07.25 for the win.

Emma Cooper - second place 1A long jump

The Nodaway Valley girls 4x100m relay team of Annika Nelson, Maddie Weston, Grace Britten and Emma Lundy finished the prelims in 50.56, giving them the third seed headed into the finals. On that blistering hot Saturday, they ran a 50.81, bumping them to fourth place. This is the team’s second consecutive year placing in the event, Lundy and Nelson returning from last year’s second-place team.

Maddie Weston - eighth place in 1A 100m dash

Weston went on to run the open 100, running a PR of 12.72 in the preliminaries, the eighth-fastest time and the last qualifying spot for Saturday’s finals. In the finals, she placed eighth, running 13.24.

Also placing in the 100m dash was Bashor of Lenox, who ran a PR of 11:05 in the prelims and an 11:42 in finals to place seventh.

Donald Bashor - seventh place in 1A 100m dash

Trenton Warner of Nodaway Valley competed in the boys shot put, coming in with the second-best qualifying mark of 53-01.5, his personal best. He threw 50-03.5 in his final throw to qualify for finals. His threw two identical marks of 50-10.25 in the finals to place fifth.

Trenton Warner - fifth in 1A shot put

Tory Henry earned fourth in the Class 3A 100m hurdles for Clarke. Her preliminary time was 15.72, but she shaved some off in the finals, running a 15.69.

Cole White - fifth place 3A discus

ory Henry earned fourth in the Class 3A 100m hurdles for Clarke. Her preliminary time was 15.72, but she shaved some off in the finals, running a 15.69.

Tory Henry - fourth 3A 100m hurdles

Other area events

EAST UNION - 1A

Senior Jacob Driskill took 24th place in the boys 800m run with a time of 2:09.35.

ORIENT-MACKSBURG - 1A

Emma Boswell placed 15th in the girls high jump after clearing 4-10 on her second attempt and 5-0 on her third. Her PR is 5-01, and she was unable to make the 5-02 jump.

SOUTHWEST VALLEY - 1A

In the boys high jump, Gavin Wetzel cleared the opening height of 5-09 and the next height 5-11 on his first tries. He came in with a season best of 6-02, but couldn’t clear 6-01, placing him in a tie for 10th.

In addition to the long jump, Cooper ran the 100m and 200m dashes where she placed 13th and 12th, respectively. Though she didn’t qualify for finals in either event, both times were new PRs, 12.81 and 26.53.

Junior Mackenzie Richards had an off day in the shot put. Her PR is a 36-05 from the state qualifying meet. At state, her best throw was her first, 30-11.

MURRAY - 1A

Sophomore Keirsten Klein competed at state for the first time this year in the girls discus. She came in with a PR of 106-06. In each throw, Klein improved by more than 10 feet, ending with a new PR of 107-04. The mark earned her 18th place.

LENOX - 1A

In the 110m hurdles, Bashor was just behind the cutoff for finals, finishing ninth in a new PR of 15.63.

Sadie Cox ran a season-best time of 1:01.47 in the girls 400m, placing 12th overall. Cox also anchored the sprint medley and 4x100m relays.

The 4x100m relay of Bentley Petersen, Gabby Robles, Zoey Reed and Cox ran a season-best time of 52.48 to place 17th. They came in ranked 23rd. The same four girls ran a 1:56.15 to place 21st in the sprint medley.

Martin-England, Owen Grundman, Anthony Villanueva and Caden Kaufman ran a 3:38.24 in the 4x400m relay to finish 23rd.

MOUNT AYR - 1A

Jaxy Knight, Aubree Shields, Ashlyn Murphy and Anne Newton ran the girls 4x400m and the distance medley relays. In the 4x400, the girls ran a 4:17.65, placing 14th. In the DMR, a 4:29.6 had them finishing 18th.

Newton and Murphy also ran the 4x800 with Tatum Friedrich and Addison Doolittle. The quartet ran a 10:36.08, placing 22nd.

The boys 4x400m relay consisting of Preston Fleharty, Tegan Hill, Adan Trujillo and Jackson Ruggles finished 18th with a 3:34.46. Fleharty, Trujillo and Ruggles were joined by Garrett Walter in the distance medley relay where they ran a 3:44.71 for 21st place.

NODAWAY VALLEY - 1A

After placing second a year ago, the girls came in with hopes to medal again in the 4x200m relay. Nelson, Weston, Britten and Lundy ran the race, finishing ninth in 1:48.82, just shy of a medal.

In the boys discus, Warner threw a new PR, but it wasn’t enough to make the finals. His mark of 145-02 placed him 10th.

Nelson ran the girls 100m hurdles where she ran a 16.79, placing 12th. Lundy ran the 200m dash, placing 20th in 26.92.

Jorja Holliday competed in both throwing events, throwing a season-best 109-05 in the discus. She came in ranked 18th, but finished 15th. In shot put, her best mark came on her first throw. The 34-02.25 earned her 17th place.

Weston, Nelson and Lundy were joined by Allie Cornelison in the sprint medley. The team ran a 1:55.24 to finish in 17th.

Cheyenne Roche

CHEYENNE ROCHE

Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.